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DII Champ Broken Arrow Steps Up to DI

  • 09 May 2019

Last year, Broken Arrow won the Single-School National Invitational Tournament (NIT) Division II title, and now it’s been promoted to Division I. 2019 marks the Oklahoma team’s fourth trip to the NITs, and so while there are nerves about the increase in competition, there is some familiarity with what that level looks like.

RELATED: Summit HS Returns to NITs & 15s

“We are definitely excited, nervous and scared all at once – if that’s possible – being moved up a division. We hope and plan to do our best to give these high-caliber teams a great match,” Broken Arrow head coach Quan Hoang noted. “A lot of our girls watched the semis and finals of last year’s DI matches. Those matches set the bar for a lot of our girls to expect more of themselves and their teammates.”

Numbers were low around Oklahoma this spring, tournaments were cancelled, and in-state competition didn’t provide the resistance needed when building toward a national tournament. Broken Arrow’s numbers dipped, too, but there is enough veteran leadership to keep the team focused and driven.

The pack has been the backbone of the team game this year, according to Hoang, with players like senior prop Bianka Diaz, captain and hooker Mckaylynn Stephens, and prop/No. 8 Kylin Coonce and lock Kat Mason – both sophomores – leading by example. They work hard to be in the right position, and play a good support game on either side of the ball.

Scrumhalf Catie Richardson controls the pace of play and releases a good back line that’s led by the experienced Erica Hinkefent, the captain and sometimes fullback. Center/flyhalf Faith Heilman and senior center Kaitlyn Esreal combine well in the middle, and together, this core group of players set up Broken Arrow for another state title-winning season.

“We have a lot of new girls that picked up the game quickly and have become invaluable players,” Hoang highlighted prop Kinley Johnson, lock Mackinzie Irwin and wing/center Mia Kruse. “These girls will be the future core of Broken Arrow.”

A dominating season doesn’t prepare a team for the next level of competition, and squads need to know what adversity feels like and how to overcome it. Fortunately, Broken Arrow was able to play Missouri’s Independence Warriors, who are debuting at the HS Club NIT in Murray, Utah.

“That was a big eye-opener for the girls,” Hoang reflected on the uptick in standard of play. “They rose to the occasion and played their hearts out. They realized that plans don’t always work out and sometimes improvising and adjusting is all you can do. But they were excited to play a higher-level team.”

Broken Arrow rallied but fell just short in the 35-34 decision. Nevertheless, the team found confidence in the depth of its resilience, and that’s valuable considering the competition that awaits in Glendale, Colo. Midwest champion Divine Savior Holy Angels, 2018 NIT runner-up Catholic Memorial and local favorite Summit High School are among the potential opponents. There are also newcomers like Palmer (Colo.) and Idaho’s Capital, which inject an element of surprise into the competition.

“We’ve tried to increase our standard and level of play from last year’s DII in preparation to move up, just didn’t plan on it being this soon,” Hoang added. “So, yeah, I’m a basket case, hoping I coached these girls well enough. Expectations are out there, like it or not, both for me and the girls. I believe the girls are doing better at meeting those expectations than I am.

“This team plays with their hearts and each other if nothing else,” the coach concluded. “What more could a coach ask for right?”

The Single-School NIT occurs Saturday-Sunday, May 18-19 at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colo. The HS Club NIT takes place Friday-Saturday, May 17-18, in Murray, Utah.

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